Head of Dutch Bros. on 'Undercover Boss'

In the first five seasons of the television series "Undercover Boss," no coffee company mogul has ever rubbed elbows with the rank and file.

Not Starbucks, not Folgers or Peet's Coffee. No one passed the wake-up aroma test until the TV show brain trust percolated on Dutch Bros. president Travis Boersma.

Boersma, who along with his big brother Dane founded the Dutch Bros. coffee company on a little cart in Grants Pass in 1992, will be the featured company exec in the "Undercover Boss" segment airing on CBS Friday night.

The show features a company boss who goes to work in an entry level job in his or her own company, working with employees who have no idea the newbie is actually the head honcho.

"It's our first journey into America's thriving coffee industry, and I think people will be interested in the whole process of how it's made," said Chris Carlson, executive producer of the show.

In its 21 years, Dutch Bros. has expanded to 202 locations with 2,000 employees in seven states, making it the largest privately held drive-thru coffee chain. Its annual revenues are more than $100 million.

Boersma goes undercover as Sam Marshall, a preppy nerd from Texas, who dreams of starting his own restaurant business. The episode, shot during late September and early October, took Boersma to a coffee plantation in El Salvador, where he took part in a harvest, and to Dutch Bros. locations throughout the West.

"It's certainly the highest-profile thing the company has ever done," said Dutch Bros. creative director Dan Buck. "We're excited about getting thrust on the national platform."

Carlson said the Boersma family's farming roots and subsequent triumph and tragedy were an intriguing entry.

"The company's got a really great story of two brothers who were raised on a dairy farm in Oregon and chose to start this coffee business that's become incredibly successful," Carlson said. "After the untimely passing of his brother (Dane), Travis is running the business on his own and aspires to do so in a way that would make his brother proud. So, it's a story with heart and emotion."

Beyond that, Travis Boersma's irreverent and laid-back corporate culture has endeared him to company insiders and casual observers alike.

"Travis is also an appealing and unique character — he's the president of a company who talks like a surfer from Southern California," Carlson said.

The episode takes place in three U.S. locations and in Central America, the latter a quick trip to a farm near San Salvador.

"They have a very quick production schedule with long days," Buck said.

When Boersma, as Sam Marshall, shows up at the plantation, he's far too dressy for picking coffee berries — coffee "beans" are actually berries — leaves too many mature ones on the tree and starts eating others, which draws a skeptical rebuke from a fellow plantation worker.

"We went down there hopeful we'd find an amazing farm and amazing people," Buck said. "For the most part that's what we found."

Then there is the manager of the Dutch Bros. drive-thru in Gilbert, Ariz., who applauds Boersma's creative skills in greeting customers, rewarding his enthusiasm with a $5 prize.

The co-founder discovers that the manager tried to unsuccessfully land a job with Dutch Bros. in Oregon before being hired on the spot when she applied in Arizona. After two years, she was promoted to assistant manager and a year later became manager. Her goal, viewers learn, is to become a Dutch Bros. franchisee.

In Nampa, Idaho, one of Dutch Bros.' premier locations, which rakes in close to $4,000 daily (or about $1.4 million annually), Boersma saw the coffee client relationship from a whole new perspective when a customer delivered a cobbler to workers. One employee reminded him to keep focused on the customer while working the window. Turns out the employee was a single mom with two children, including a son with Down syndrome.

"We place great faith in our employees and they didn't let us down," Buck said. "There won't be a dry eye in the house when people are watching. They are going to love these people."

The show will air locally at 8 p.m. Friday on KTVL-TV.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

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